I used to think of Indigo Wine as a small-to-medium importer with a portfolio focused on Spain, but in truth they seem to have grown rather rapidly into something larger and much more diverse, but without loss of direction. There’s a lot of finger on the pulse stuff alongside names that have become quite established now.
On 12 February Indigo took over two floors of the increasingly popular China Exchange venue in London’s Soho. Twenty-one wine producers were present, most showing between four to half-a-dozen wines, approaching a hundred wines. I plan to mention around fifty. So many? I can tell you, I’d be happy to drink all of these, and more.
For those for whom it matters, Indigo states that the vast majority of its wines are suitable for vegans. It’s something they are hot on.
Indigo works with Biercraft, the small but very important beer merchant which supplies so many perfectly formed craft beers to the independent trade. Aside from deserving equal billing with Indigo, there’s nothing better at the end of a wine tasting than to sip on a few beers, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Hoffmann & Rathbone, Sussex, UK
This East Sussex producer, based in Mountfield north of Battle, has impressed me every time I taste their wines, and with a “Wines of Hampshire” tasting the following day, it felt good to try something from the home team, so to speak.
Their Classic Cuvée comprises 60% Pinot Noir with 30% Chardonnay and 10% Meunier, bottled with 7g/l dosage. The nose here is beautifully precise, but the palate has a bit more weight, definitely a wine with gastronomic possibilities. The base vintage here is 2013.
Blanc de Blancs 2011 won best English Wine at the London Wine Competition. With more than five years on lees it has a nascent complexity, yet a refreshing peach and floral dimension. Elegant yet with body.
Rosé Reserve 2011 is a salmon-pink blend of 85% PN with 15% Ch. The colour comes from a little skin contact. This is, once more, a food wine, showing red berry fruits which burst with flavour on the palate. As well as the obvious fish pairings I think this would stand up to game, paté and even dark chocolate.
These wines retail between £44 and £48, but they are nicely packaged and definitely worth seeking out. I find I like them more and more as I get to know them.
Hirsch, Kamptal, Austria
Johannes Hirsch makes wine around the Kamptal village of Kammern, east of the Wachau, working the two major varieties of the region, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the latter planted on the steeper slopes and the former beneath, where the soils are more fertile.
The entry level Grüner, Hirschvergnügen (2017) is nice, but the village wine, Kammern 2017, is a step up. The predominantly loess soils give a softness combined with a nice minerality. Kammern is pretty well known for its fine Grüner Veltliner, and Kammerner Lamm is the village’s best cru. Kammerner Lamm 2016 is spicy with a lovely bouquet, but the same wine from the 2012 vintage shows its class. It’s still youthful but the spice and mineral texture are impressive.
Two Rieslings prove Hirsch is not all about the Grüner. Riesling Zöbing 2015 is classic and juicy. It is drinking nicely, though the acids will enable it to age further. The single site Riesling Zöbinger Gaisberg 2015 has an even more complex bouquet and is finely honed, the best wine on the table, off the mica and schist soils which can produce such fine examples of Riesling, proving you should not always think Wachau.
Birgit Braunstein, Burgenland, Austria
Birgit is someone I warm to a lot. Burgenland seems to be well placed for exceptional female winemakers and Birgit is definitely one of the finest. Purbach is her base, near the top western corner of the Neusiedlersee, where her family (like so many in the area) has been making wine for 400 years.
There’s a cliché I always hear with Birgit’s wines, that they are sensual. Well, they are, I suppose, but there is so much more to her than this (and we don’t even see her famous amphora wines in the UK).
First we go through the lovely, pure, varietals…Welschriesling and Pinot Blanc, and then the Rosé (all 2017). I particularly recommend the pink, a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch which has just a few hours on skins. It’s always delicious, and I do believe Zweigelt makes great sappy rosé.
Pinot Vom Berg 2016 does what it says on the label (hillside vines, actually around 17 years old). Aged in acacia, there’s a balance of tannin and red fruit. Give it a little while to settle.
Blaufränkisch Heide 2015 won Birgit a “Female Winemaker of Europe” Award. It’s a fabulous Leithaberg wine, with all the iron-freshness that the schist and chalky limestone soils of this particular site impart.
Wildwux 2016 is a blend of Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and Merlot. But its also a special project for Birgit, one of biodiversity. The site has herbs, bees, chickens and bird houses, so that the vines grow in as wild an environment as is possible for commercial viticulture. This is a lovely blend, far from being merely worthy. On my list!
Finally, from under the table, Blaufränkisch Leithaberg DAC 2015. This is made from old vines on very chalky limestone soils and is concentrated and fine. Wines for those who appreciate Judith Beck and Heidi Schröck. Highly recommended at all levels…but I still need to see these amphora wines in the country.
Péter Wetzer, Sopron and Tokaj, Hungary
Does Péter Wetzer know how good his wines are? He often seems a bit nonplussed by the attention, and equally, to be fair, I’m not sure how many people know his wines that well. Sometimes I’m the only one at his table. I’ve known them for long enough to appreciate them as some of the best from Hungary.
Three wines only here. The white Furmint 2016 comes from vines in the Tokaj Region, off dark volcanic terroir. Basket pressed and then fermented and aged in 500 litre Hungarian oak, the stunning bouquet is quite high-toned, whilst on the palate this is a gentle natural wine with a softness you don’t expect.
Of the two reds, the Kékfrankos (Austria’s Blaufränkisch) is the native grape. A brambly wine with big legs, it is initially soft and gentle, yet there’s a lick of tannin and a bitter peppery twist on the finish. Pinot Noir 2016 comes, like the previous wine, from Sopron, near the Austrian border at the southern end of the Neusiedlersee. The source is two vineyards, one on schist and the other, limestone. Thirty percent is fermented with stems, a third whole bunch. A vibrant cherry colour is matched with intense cherry on nose and palate. It’s very juicy, but with tannin too.
All of these wines are exceptional.
Eugenio Bocchino, Piemonte, Italy
This small Alba producer (around 5.5 hectares) isn’t well known to me at all, but beginning with his Langhe Nebbiolo “Roccabella” 2015 I was drawn to its floral bouquet. It’s a juicy Nebbiolo and an attractive version of a DOC that can so often disappoint.
Barbera d’Alba 2017 comes from vineyards at Verduno where the variety has managed to bag some promising hillside sites. It’s a dark Barbera which coats the glass, and proves that Nebbiolo isn’t the only variety worth pursuing in this part of Piemonte.
I’m not sure whether Indigo imports any Bocchino Barolo, but Perucca Nebbiolo d’Alba 2013 is a fine example of the variety, the estate’s signature wine from a monopole site overlooking the town of Alba itself. It is treated like a Barolo. The vineyard is clay and limestone at 250 metres, exposed southwest. Ageing is 24 months in oak cask then 24 months in bottle. This seems to me of no less quality than a fine Barolo, a bit of a hidden gem, perhaps.
Vitor Claro, Portalegre, Portugal
Portalegre? It’s in Alentejo. Vitor caught the wine bug whilst working in a restaurant for Dirk Niepoort, and Dirk (as always) provided lots of advice to get him started. The vines are at altitude (650 metres) and average 85 years old, so a promising start.
Of the six wines on show, three stood out for me. The white Dominó 2016 is a field blend from vineyards up near the Spanish border. Imagine a savoury, dry, softness.
Pulso Nat’cool 2017 is made from Castelão grown on the Lisbon seashore. It’s a pale red with a dusty, ethereal, scent, very restrained. The red version of Dominó (2015) is a bigger, classic Portuguese savoury red. A field blend of old varieties, it has tannic structure and a genuine food friendly quality which gets me every time. Goat would work! Yes, why don’t we drink more classic Portuguese reds?
Evening Land, Willamette Valley, USA
This is Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman’s famous collaboration, and it was great to see Sashi on hand to pour the wines, pretending to be no one famous at all. Each one of these wines is a star, even the least expensive among them (even more so as the top wines do cost an arm and a leg).
Seven Springs Willamette Valley Chardonnay is pretty damned good in both 2015 and 2016. La Source 2015 is a clearly big step up, but at double the price, a single parcel with low yields off shallow soils. It is aged, unusually, in 500 litre Austrian oak and the sweet fruit is classy and elegant.
Three Pinot Noirs are no less thrilling. The cheapest wine here (£17 to the trade), Salem Wine Company 2016, is fruity with a savoury nose (soy?). Seven Springs Pinot Noir 2016 is bigger, more tannic, needing time but very classy. Top of the tree is the remarkable Anden Pinot Noir 2016. 100% whole bunch from old vines, it has all the features of a Pinot that is built to age, but although it’s from a cool site the fruit still has a sunny disposition. The complexity of the Amity Hills terroir is evident. Occasionally I crave wealth, but only so I could afford to buy a wine like this. Wow, it’s good!
Gaintza, Getaria, Spain
Txacoli is one of the great summer wines, full of apple freshness, to be drunk more as an alcoholic long drink, as a thirst quencher. The Lazkano family has been making this Basque speciality for four generations since the 1920s. The vineyards are coastal, but protected by the Garate hill. The maritime climate gives amazing freshness to these wines.
Gaintza Txacolina 2018 is a classic Txacoli de Getaria with small bubbles adding zest and zip. Floral and appley-crisp. Aitako 2017 comes from one plot of 100-year-old vines, of which, along with the more traditional Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltz, contains around 10% Chardonnay. With 12 months on lees, this has a bit more depth. The fruit is very ripe.
Much as I really like the two white wines, I was rather taken with the pink, Gaintza Roses 2018. The two Hondarrabi varieties are blended together (60% Hondarrabi Beltz, the red grape version, in this case). It has the characteristic tiny bubbles of some Txacoli, with pure-scented red fruits and perfectly judged acidity, making a perfect summer aperitif (I must source a couple of bottles).
I’m not much of a fan of scores, but when a Txacoli producers achieves scores in the 90s for all three wines at the 2018 International Wine Challenge, it is perhaps worthy of noting.
Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Spain
Coto de Gomariz make the well known The Flower and The Bee wines, both of which are great bets if you see them on a restaurant list. The red (2016), made from Sousón is both tannic and even a tad bitter, but genuinely interesting.
For a few quid more, Coto de Gomariz Blanco 2016 off three sites is more complex, soft and savoury. Gomariz Xistos 2017 is 95% Albariño with Treixadura off schist. This is “inland” Albariño, very different. It has a textured, highly mineral, edge, definitely one for food.
Colleita Seleccionada 2016 is selected fruit aged 14 months in 500 litre French oak. A fine savoury white with more weight. This producer’s growing reputation is well deserved.
Fedellos do Couto, Ribeira Sacra, Spain
Ribeira Sacra boasts some of Spain’s most truly beautiful vineyards, but with that beauty comes a near impossibility to work them profitably. Backbreaking toil requires real dedication, but so often these high terraces yield wines which justify the work, as they do here.
I’ve written about Fedellos do Couto before, and the wines are reasonably well known, so I shall only mention one. This is not a Mencia. Bastarda 2017 is made from what is effectively Jura’s Trousseau, grown here on wild granite and slate rather than that region’s marls. Whole bunch macerated, this is so beautifully pale with a stunner of a dreamlike nose. It’s an unbelievable wine and one of my wines of the day. I adore it.
Bodegas Peixes, Galicia, Spain
Peixas is located just outside the Valdeorras region and this is, I think, their first vintage. It’s a side project by the chaps at Fedellos do Couto with old bush vines on terraces at serious altitude (up to 850 metres) above the river valley. The soils here are granite with a high mica content and every plot is treated separately.
The three wines are all red, all 2016, called Lacazan, Peixe da Estrada and Peixes da Rocha. The latter might be the best and incidentally is the most expensive, but it is only £17 to the trade. Every one of these is brilliant so get in there swiftly. Smooth and slightly bitter-sour wines of real personality and individuality with that characteristic northern crispness and bite.
César Márquez, Bierzo, Spain
Still in NW Spain, we finally get to Bierzo, where Mencia rules. But I’m going to highlight the white wine from César Márquez. This young guy is blessed with the region’s most famous uncle, Raul Pérez. He’s used his contacts well, working in Mendoza for the Michelini Brothers for a time, before returning to work 100-y-o vines at Valtuille de Abajo.
Everything is trad. Long macerations and 12 months in oak, using mainly Mencia for the reds, but with odds and ends which make up field blends, as was the way here in Bierzo. The Bierzo reds are not textbook…in that they have an elegance many lack these days. But the white here, from these very old vines, is complex and special. La Salvación 2017 comes from a mere 550 metres altitude, is made from Godello fermented in 500 litre oak, then aged 12 months in barrel. Due to hit the UK in March, a producer to watch closely.
Dominio del Águila, Ribera del Duero, Spain
You don’t often find me recommending Ribera del Duero wines. Their tannin heft doesn’t usually chime with my preference for more elegant fare. The producers in this region have, in many cases, taken a step back in Parkerised time to produce something more redolent of the 1990s. Jorge Monzón is different. His wines are more restrained and terroir-expressive, as you’d expect from a man whose first job was at DRC, and who worked a year more recently at Vega Sicilia.
Blanco 2015 is worth a look for its herby white fruit (from Albillo) made fresh by limestone in the soils. Expensive though. There’s a lovely rosado, Picaro del Águila Clarete 2016, made from Bobal, Garnacha and Albillo, and a similarly priced Tempranillo red, Picaro del Águila 2016, both around £18 to the trade. Then we more than double the price to the Reserva 2014. Leather and plum, quite tannic but with exceptional fruit.
Priced at £204, unless it was a misprint, Canta la Perdiz 2014 comes from a high altitude single vineyard on a rare form of limestone covered with a layer of sand. It’s 95% Tempranillo with a few co-planted interlopers. This is a very fine wine, although I would guess the UK market is pretty tiny.
Pamela Geddes – Lobban Wines, Regional Spain
Pamela’s location is vague because she sources fruit from Calatayud and Jumilla, but makes wine in Cava country, in the village of St Jaume Sesoliveres, near to St Sadurni d’Anoia. She’s always getting hassled by the authorities for her labels, but her wines are wonderful, handcrafted gems. I think their appeal is assisted in no small part by Pamela’s lovely Aberdeen accent.
Babito Brut is merely labelled as a Vino Espumoso de Calidad, but its a beautifully fresh Xarel-lo fermented in bottle. There are two more sparklers, La Rosita being a great take on ripe, red, Garnacha and La Pamelita, perhaps her best known wine, being a Syrah aged on lees for eight years (so this is really a 2010 vintage). There’s a sweetness to the fruit but the wine is dry, much more European than any Aussie sparkling Shiraz would taste. The wines are ridiculously cheap.
Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife, Spain
This producer may be the most famous of the Canary Island labels, but the quality remains just as astonishingly good as ever. Jonatan (Garcia Lima) managed to produce eight wines here in London, somehow. I won’t mention Trenzado, La Solana, nor 7 Fuentes, because I’ve written about them relatively recently.
Nat Cool 2017 is Listán Negro aged in concrete and bottled at just 11.5% abv, with very low sulphur, and it’s one of my wines of the moment from Suertes.
El Lance 2016 is a soft blend of five different red varieties which are fermented in a mix of concrete and plastic, and then aged in 228 litre and 500 litre oak. It has the grippy but fresh mouthfeel of a wine from volcanic terroir.
El Chibirique 2016 is a pale red parcel wine, textured and almost tea-like. It’s a lighter style of wine, yet sits over a fairly tannic base. I love this, though have drunk it rarely. But the 2016 is really on form. It’s 100% Listán Negro fermented in open plastic vats before seeing ten months ageing in mixed oak.
El Ciruelo 2016 is the same variety (with a tiny bit of co-planted Listán Blanco), but this time fermented in concrete. It’s a red with a clearly orange/brick tinge. It’s quite peppery. Named after an old plum tree in this vineyard.
Out from under the table came the final wine, a sample of La Floridita 2018. This is a new light red, showing the softness of Listán Negro fermented in concrete for four days on skins before transfer to barrel without skins. It’s mega-fruity, very much a wine to grab for this summer before it is all snapped up.
It’s totally unfair that Biercraft draw the short straw, as a postscript, but I guess most readers are not here for an in-depth beer tasting. Nick and Theresa distribute a whole host of great craft beers: Lost & Grounded (Bristol), Cloudwater (Manchester), Verdant Brewing (Cornwall), Beavertown (Tottenham, London), The Kernel (Bermondsey, London celebrating their tenth anniversary this year), and Burning Sky (Firle, East Sussex) are all names I buy fairly regularly.
One of my new favourites, on account of them being based quite close to my parents’ home village, is Braybrooke Beer Co, from near Market Harborough, Leicestershire (where I pick them up at local wine merchant, Duncan Murray). Their ingredients are shipped from Bamberg in Germany and their lagers are all unfiltered and unpasteurised. Their Keller Lager is described as the UK’s most authentic, and I was enjoying their New Zealand Pilsner just this weekend.
Honey Märzen is a 5.9% abv collaboration Braybrooke has done with Beavertown as part of their “Seven Deadly Sins” project – one tank from each of seven brewers. This is a strong beer, but lovely and fresh with that honey(ed) nose. Rare, so if you see some…
I probably didn’t expect to be ending this article with an alcohol free beer. Most are frankly terrible in my opinion, but Lucky Saint, whose posters of beer drinking nuns in habits are appearing all over London, is different. This is also unpasteurised and unfiltered Bavarian lager which is brewed in the classic way before the alcohol is removed by distillation in a vacuum, so there is no heat damage. The beer then sees a six week cold storage before shipping.
I’m told this is made for the posh hotel market (my words), and is “reassuringly expensive”, but flavour-wise, I can’t fault it. They should have been handing out bottles on the door on the way out!